Using TOK to get into university

As a DP student, you have a distinct advantage over other students you are competing with to secure a place at university. At the heart of this are the credentials given to you by TOK. It’s essential you realize this, and make the most of it, from the outset!

As Howard Gardner, an educational psychologist at Harvard puts it, the IB Diploma helps student to “think critically, synthesize knowledge, reflect on their own thought processes and get their feet wet in interdisciplinary thinking.”

The appeal of TOK

The demand for such skills in this world of information overload has never been more important, but the wonderful thing about the IB Diploma is that it has always taken the same approach to education as it did when it was first introduced in the late 1960s. As the Independent newspaper puts it, “The IB Diploma is a timeless classic, an icon of educational sense and high standards in a world where educational fashion shifts like hemlines, and much-needed clarity of thinking is elusive.” This means that the IB Diploma is “the best possible preparation for university, for the workplace, and more importantly, for life.”

Of course, one of the key reasons for the desirability of the IB Diploma from the point of view of colleges and universities is the theory of knowledge course. TOK is the element of the programme that most encourages critical thinking, “a sense of confidence and standing on your own two feet,” and an objective assessment of the different subjects that make up the Diploma. This is why the skills that you have built up as a TOK student are arguably your greatest asset when it comes to applying to university. As the Times Higher Education Supplement says, “Universities want students who can think in the abstract, and the IB’s theory of knowledge course… does just that.” So how do you make the most of these skills, and use TOK to help you win a place at your choice of university or college?

Making the most of TOK

1. Pick fights in TOK classes

The only way to properly develop your skills in TOK is to offer your own opinions, reflect on those of others, and get involved in discussions, debates, and disagreements. Central to the TOK experience is understanding and respecting – although not necessarily agreeing with – different viewpoints, and realizing that your perspective is just one of many out there.

The best TOK students are the ones that have felt challenged by others, and have even adapted their outlooks on life. Being able to say how your own views and beliefs have developed as a result of TOK, and possibly saying how you have helped to influence others, will mark you out as a tolerant, reflective, and adaptable learner.

2. Read, watch, and experience

TOK is not a course that can be properly learned by sticking to a textbook. Instead, it’s meant to lead you on to an exploration of as many different sources as possible, including books, articles, documentaries, websites, and other people.

It goes without saying that being well-read in TOK also massively improves your university application profile. When you apply for a place at university or college, being able to refer to these titles will mark you out as a special candidate, and indicate that you are exactly the kind of person they’ll want. And don’t neglect your own experiences (both inside and outside the IB classroom) as enriching and educational: you should not only be reading and watching the world, you should be interacting with it, something that CAS and your other extra curricular activities will help you to achieve.

3. Write a great TOK essay

Universities and colleges will also want more concrete evidence of your engagement with TOK, and your skills as a critical thinker. The key way to do this is to make a big effort with your TOK essay, ensuring that you plan, structure, and write it effectively. Our will help you in this process, and our will ensure that you have hit all the right assessment targets.

The essay will require time and effort, but don’t see this as an investment that has no return. Make your TOK essay one of the central feature of your college or university application, stating the prescribed title you have chosen and why, how you went about tackling it, and the research you carried out in order to support your arguments.

4. Enjoy your TOK exhibition (or presentation)

There’s more choice when it comes to the TOK exhibition (you can choose which of the five optional themes to focus on, which of the 35 IA prompts to select, and which objects to choose), so the fundamental aim of your exhibition should be to ENJOY designing and presenting it. Your objects should have personal significance to you as a knower, and should give you plenty to talk about in university interviews, or in your personal statement.

If you are finishing your DP in May or November 2021, you’ll be doing a TOK presentation rather than an exhibition. Our advice here is exactly the same: choose a main real-life situation that interests and engages you, identify a knowledge question that really matters, and put as much of yourself into this task.

Just as the TOK essay can be used a core component of your college or university application, so can your exhibition or presentation be used as a way of highlighting your skills as a researcher, your engagement with what’s going on in the world, and the way in which you think critically about contemporary issues and situations.

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Members have access to a huge range of classroom-ready TOK resources, including three different TOK Courses, the monthly TOK Mini-Lessons, our TOK Padlets, the Integration Tool, TOK Filmography, and loads more engaging, innovative resources!

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